- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 7, 2016

Two of the most popular sci-fi horror movie species in the galaxy battle a mysterious silver orb in Aliens vs. Pinball (Zen Studios, rated Everyone, reviewed with PlayStation 4, $9.99).

The developer known for some stunning pinball simulations tied to the “Star Wars,” “The Walking Dead” and Marvel Comics universe returns to challenge casual gamers smitten with Xenomorphs (the Aliens species) and Predators.

Specifically, three highly active and detailed tables highlight memorable moments, dialogue and characters in the movies “Aliens” and “Alien vs. Predator” and the popular 2014 video game “Alien Isolation.”

Before diving into the minutia of each, remember these are physics-based simulations starring flippers striking a weighted ball to move through ramps, fall into sinkholes, ping off of bumpers and hit items on the field of play.

This addictive blend of traditional pinball action further combines the use of three-dimensional characters literarily walking around the tables, dot-matrix animations, mini-games, music and chilling sound effects.

Each pinball table offers a wide degree of difficulty to deliver deeper game play depending on how lucky or skilled a player is in keeping the ball in play and hitting a correct sequence of targets.

First, the “Aliens” table takes a player into the 1986 action film starring Sigourney Weaver and Bill Paxton. A group of colonial marines are investigating a disaster on the Hadley’s Hope colony.

This table, sitting open on the surface of the moon Acheron (LV-426), presents a three-dimensional likeness of Ripley (looking close enough to Miss Weaver), standing on a bumper and wielding a weapon.

Ripley is within spitting distance of a gorgeously designed, massive Queen Alien who is nesting and slobbering over the back part of the table.

A M577 armored personnel carrier drives up to deliver the ball and puts it in the channel for the player to push to play.

Memorable moments include the following:

• During a few of the six movie missions, the entire table goes dark, transitioned to an eerie red hue. The musical score ramps up and waves of rectangular targets featuring an illustration of a Xenomorph on them rise from the table and start moving toward the flippers. A player uses the pinball to knock them down, Ripley lights some of them on fire with her flamethrower, and a sentry gun in the corner of the table shoots at them.

• Also, Ripley uses her flamethrower to light the ball on fire when magnetically captured near her. Beside the cool animation effect, a player can get extra balls for shooting at targets with the fiery orb in play.

• Hit the right ramp and the ball will travel up to a hive mini-player field containing a flipper and targets of Xenomorph eggs to squash.

• A player triggers a very difficult driving mini-game that requires driving a M577 though an escape route cluttered with piles of garbage. It looks cool, but the controls are so bad, it’s nearly impossible not to run into the junk.

The queen is more than happy to spear the ball with her tail and devour it like an appetizer, forcing a new pinball into play.

• The movie dialogue includes Miss Weaver as Ripley as she questions, “Just tell me one thing, Burke. You’re going out there to destroy them, right? Not to study. Not to bring back. But to wipe them out.” Mr. Paxton’s character, Private Hudson, says at the end of a match: “That’s it man, game over man, game over.”

Next, the “Alien vs., Predator” highlights the 2004 film about a group of scientists finding a massive pyramid containing a training ground for Predators to fight Xenomorphs.

On one side of the table is a fully armed Predator and the other, a large Xenomorph, both taunting one another, while the back of the table reveals the large pyramid discovered in the film.

One of the coolest events is putting the ball in play, accomplished by a Xenomorph using its lower, retractable jaw to jettison the orb into a chute and on the table.

Memorable moments include the following:

• Trigger an event to cause the table to go dark with only the ball, flippers and specific targets glowing a fluorescent orange, of course, to represent the Predator’s thermal vision in hunting mode.

• In a mini-game, turn four rectangular towers in a pyramid behind the table to match a specific hieroglyph sequence in a set amount of time and gain 1 million points.

• Perhaps the coolest, persistent character from all of the tables offers a twisting mini Xenomorph hanging out at the center of a trap on the table. It will try to reach out to grab passing balls or when directly hit by the orb, thrashes around and shrieks out in agony.

• Hit the correct targets and the center of the table opens to reveal a circular stone tablet that rotates. Small silver balls cascade around it and a player must line up the tablet to have the balls fall into holes on the ancient relic.

Finally, “Alien Isolation” offers the figure of Amanda Ripley (daughter of Ellen) trapped on a pinball table representing the Sevastopol Space Station and being stalked by a Xenomorph roaming around the table.

A smoldering piston-like device sets the ball into play upon a beautifully illustrated table top reproducing the video game box cover of Amanda wearing a space helmet and near nose-to-nose with a Xenomorph.

Memorable moments include the following:

• The nasty alien often pounces on Amanda (“Something is lurking in those shadows Ripley, be careful,” she is warned). This attack costs her health bars in the process as she sneaks away into an air duct. The animations look great during every encounter.

• Many of the missions on the table (triggered by hitting a computer terminal) transform its center into a shooting range as rectangular targets of Working Joes (androids in the video game) pop up on the table and must be hit multiple times with the ball.

• The center of the table slides open to reveal a mini-game on a rectangular board sporting a Pong-style game that has the player control a rubber bar at the bottom of the game space and bounce a ball up to target icons.

Overall, “Aliens vs. Pinball” delivers three potent tables filled with addictive potential for up to four players to compete, but be forewarned about the difficulty. To truly appreciate each table’s secrets will require hours of passionate play.

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